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New York Officially Concludes Search for Human Remains in WTC Rubble - 2002-07-15

More than ten months after the September 11 terrorists attacks, New Yorkers Monday ended the search for the remains of victims who lost their lives in the World Trade Center.

After the attack, rescue workers began sifting through a massive heap of debris from the demolished World Trade Center, in a desperate search for survivors. One day later, on September 12, the Fresh Kills landfill, the nation's largest garbage dump, which had been shut down earlier in the year, was reopened as a final stop for the rubble.

Equipped with special respirators, the recovery workers began examining the debris by hand with simple rakes. Later, a large conveyor was installed for the chilling task of spotting bone shards of victims.

Now, almost one year later, their effort has officially concluded. Recovery workers, victims' families and city officials marked the end of the search of remains in a ceremony at the Fresh Kills Landfill.

Speaking in front of a large hill of garbage, New York Governor George Pataki honored the workers who faced the foul odor daily to search for body parts, victims' possessions and criminal evidence. "First to the emergency service workers who have been here since September 11," he said, "we have to thank you for the courage you have shown and the sacrifices you have made under very difficult circumstances. You will never appreciate how much finding a wedding ring or a photo of a lost father means to those families."

By the end of the effort, workers had sifted through 1.6 million tons of debris from the World Trade Center. About 1,200 of the more than 2,800 victims of the attacks have been identified, many through DNA testing of body parts. One worker, Police Inspector James Luongo spoke of the seriousness of the task.

"We knew we were the last shot," Mr. Luongo said. "The work that was being done at the Trade Center site was being done very well. They were very dedicated. We knew that when we got it, it was the last chance to come up with whatever had to be come up with, and we have approached that task with that outlook from the very beginning."

Although the recovery period at the Fresh Kill landfill has formally drawn to a close, the city's medical examiner continues to try to identify victims from the nearly 20,000 body parts hauled away from the site.